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Wednesday, April 28, 1999 Published at 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK

UK Politics

Boost for Gulf War Syndrome research

Nearly 2,000 UK servicemen are said to suffer from the syndrome

The UK and US are to share more information on Gulf War Syndrome to further understanding of the mysterious illnesses suffered by many servicemen since the 1991 conflict.

Armed Forces minister Doug Henderson said an agreement was being put in place for "future exchanges, particularly for classified information, in order to ensure that both the UK and US are able to keep each other abreast of emerging or relevant research quickly and easily".

Areas of further co-operation between the two countries were also outlined by the minister.

[ image: Doug Henderson: Tackling the illness is a
Doug Henderson: Tackling the illness is a "priority"
Mr Henderson said the possibility of doing joint studies with the US is being looked into by the government and UK research bodies.

He added that as depleted uranium, used in armour piercing shells, was being suggested as one of the causes of the syndrome, testing for it would be improved in future UK studies into the syndrome.

This was in line with comparable testing now going on in the US he added.

A recent Ministry of Defence report showed no evidence that depleted uranium exposure caused Gulf War Illness.

Further exchanges of information on the vaccines used to protect troops in the field from chemical and biological weapons are also ongoing.

In addition, medical record-keeping during combat will be improved in the future, the minister said.

Mr Henderson made the announcement while appearing before the Commons Defence Committee.

The committee has already produced three reports into the mystery medical phenomenon over the last seven years and its chairman acknowledged that it was beginning to feel "frustrated" over the difficulty in establishing the cause of the syndrome.

The current research follows years of campaigning by former services personnel angered by the two governments refusal to even acknowledge the existence of the phenomenon.

'Highest priority'

Mr Henderson told the committee that the issue had his "department's highest priority" and he added that all information held by the government which would not affect military operations would be made available.

He said: "The guiding principle is openness - we want people to know what we are doing."

More than 50,000 British servicemen served in the Gulf War, of which 400 have died since the end of the conflict.

Mr Henderson said that while medical research into the syndrome was still taking place its causes would remain "one of the terrible unanswerables".

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